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August 2008
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October 2008

September 2008

Who do you REALLY work for?

“Each individual should work for himself. People will not sacrifice themselves for the company.” Soichiro Honda; founder of Honda

What a truly humanitarian statement, and from what one would consider to be a very unlikely source! The fact is that we all do ultimately work for ourselves, despite what it says our business cards. 

Yet this is something that employer and worker both tend to forget. We spend nearly 25% of a full week, or over 35% of our waking lives, at work - assuming a 40 hour week and completely ignoring commuting time. It is therefore inevitable that it tends to dominate our lives and we come to identify ourselves by the organisation we work for; especially if we have heavy financial commitments and depend on our work completely just to make ends meet.

On the other hand, employer organisations also seem to think that an employee is someone over whom they can make almost any demands. This is epitomised by a shocking anecdote in Alex Kjerulf’s book “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” where an employee (ironically working for a non-profit organisation) was refused a request to leave work to go to their beloved grandmother’s deathbed. I am sure most readers find this shocking, but is it actually any more shocking than employers’ thinking that it is their role to motivate employees? Both situations illustrate the extent to which both sides have blurred the lines of the relationship.

That is what make Honda’s words such a breath of fresh air. Organisations and individuals alike would be better off if they recognised and accepted the principle and then put it into practice. This would mean:
• Individuals would be responsible for their own engagement and motivation.
• Organisations would be responsible only for creating an environment in which individuals can do their work effectively, and spend less time trying to offer all things to all people.

While the benefits would be many, one of the biggest might be the improved productivity of manager’s who no longer have to spend so much of their time on these no-win issues.


Changing Rules

With the dramatic events in the financial services industry over the past few weeks and the world’s bastion of capitalism and the free market economy resorting to what might (if it hasn’t reached such proportions already) easily become a thirteen figure bailout, one has to ask, “is capitalism dead?” After all, with these multi-billion or trillion dollar rescues the US economy has arguably become one of the most socialist in the world almost overnight, albeit through sheer scale rather than philosophic intent.

Clearly, the ramifications of these events are going to be felt for a long-time to come, and it is going to take a while for the debates to reach their conclusion and a new way forward to be found. In his “Insight of the Day” today, Bob Proctor states, “The entire world is in the midst of a paradigm shift, which is unprecedented. There have been transitions in the past but nothing to equal what we are presently experiencing. The world is moving from an intellectual to a spiritual vibration.”  This is certainly an interesting perspective. 

There are very few who would argue that the present financial crisis could not have been foreseen. The big question has always been “when?” rather than “will it?” For decades western economies have been driven by rampant consumerism, with “retail therapy” fuelled by increasingly indiscriminate lending and people’s own lack of prudence. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. In spending so blindly people have sacrificed their own savings and relied upon the enforced savings of their pension contributions. These, having been invested in/by these self-same financial institutions, have been effectively eradicated and will take years to rebuild. Whether we like it or not, we are all financially poorer than we were a month ago, and likely to become more so as government looks to us – as taxpayers – to make good the gap in its revenues that the decline will inevitably produce.

Unfortunately, this consumerism has infected governments too, and with high levels of fiscal borrowing exacerbated by these latest crises they will be unable to spend their way to the rescue as they have in the past. Governments cannot borrow their way out of this one, and with the wars already going, war is also unlikely to kick-start a period of renewed economic prosperity as some say it did last time. In any case the demographics wouldn’t allow it, and in fact further restrict governments’ ability to raise revenues.

In this void it seems likely that society will go back to more spiritual values and in that regard Proctor is probably correct. What is perhaps more debatable is whether we can justifiably say we reached the current situation through ‘intellectual vibration’ rather than perverse iconoclasm! The “free market” has been proven, once again, not to be a rational economic instrument but a blind, hysterical force impelled by the herd instinct and shaped by some of humankind’s baser urges. New solutions have to be found that will require all our spiritual and intellectual capacities.

The global economy cannot withstand the scale of the ‘busts’ engendered by such market failures. The imperative for better economic and commercial management with better checks and balances on the excesses of human nature (individual and collective), is unquestionably going to change the rules. In the same way that kings lost their “divine right” to rule over the masses, so too will corporate leaders lose their powers to lead the employed masses to their economic doom.  The rules of both conducting business and policing its administration are going to change. You’d better be ready.


How's Your Service

“If things are not going well with you, begin your effort at correcting the situation by carefully examining the service you are rendering, and especially the spirit in which you are rendering it.” Roger Babson

So how is your service? Is this something you ask yourself regularly? This is a question that individuals and organisations alike should regularly ask themselves.  

Oh yes, of course! Organisations already do – it’s called a customer satisfaction survey. Now I don't know about you, but I generally try to fill these in constructively, in the (I hope not mistaken) belief that they have a sound purpose and that my comments will be read and will help the supplier improve their business. Yet, I wonder – I haven’t yet been asked a question about the spirit of the service. Have you? 

So how significant is this? Well, what makes good service stand out is the positive attitude, the friendliness and the courtesy with which it is provided. Thus I would have to go along with Babson and say the omission is actually a glaring oversight. 

This being the case we clearly need to ask – both as individuals and organisations – in what spirit are we serving?

Marian Wright Edelman, the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi bar and the founder of Children’s Defence Fund said that “Service is what life’s about” a sentiment that she might have gleaned from Warren Harding who said, “Service is the supreme commitment of life.”  Even Henry Ford said “The only foundation of real business is service.”  So there is no getting away from it, service is vital.

If we are not delivering service in the right spirit, it is questionable whether what we are delivering warrants the name, and it should hardly be any surprise that things “are not going well” – personally or organisationally. 


Shaping Behaviour

“Watch your thoughts
                                       They become your words
Watch your words
                                       They become your actions
Watch your actions
                                       They become your habits
Watch your habits
                                       They become your character
Watch your character
                                       It becomes your life
Watch too, the tone of your words
                                      They are a two-way mirror
Allowing people to see into your motives
                                      And reflecting the results back into your life.”

                                                                                            (Unknown)   

A beautiful and rather profound way of saying that one’s thinking governs one’s experience. Something that, if it is true for life in general, must also be true in business and at work.

So then, how much of our experience at work is determined by our attitudes? This is perhaps a question that has even more relevance for managers and executives, suggesting as it does that business performance is determined by their thinking.  

These might not actually be questions you have ever asked yourself, but this truism is the very essence of what Zealise is about. For the whole Zealise service offering is premised on the fact that employees are regarded as an expense. As a Price Waterhouse report quoted in this week’s Top Consultant Newsletter says, “Employment costs can account for up to two thirds of business costs and, in times of market uncertainty, it is unsurprising that CEOs put pressure on their HR and finance functions to manage these costs closely.”

This thinking underpins the often knee-jerk reaction to make people redundant during bad economic times and is why one of the major concerns about whether we are or aren’t going into a recession is the impact on employment. For investors looking to maintain their earnings, and managers charged with ensuring they do, the bottom-line is key, and understandably, reducing people costs is a fundamental, if expedient, way of doing so. 

What is this, if not a behaviour determined by thinking? Consequently, the only way to change behaviour is to change thinking. This is precisely what our method of treating people as assets will do.

Investors and managers already say they regard people as assets, but it is a case where their words don’t actually follow their thinking, because of the ingrained, constantly reinforced, attitude of thinking of employees as costs. By inducing investors and managers to value people as assets as they already claim they do, Zealise will shape changes in behaviour that will make the mirror a far more pleasant experience for them all.

For a clearer understanding of our service offering please have a closer look at our newly revamped website and/or download our white-paper, “Lighting the Fuse.”


No-one is Insignificant

“No man is so insignificant as to be sure his example can do no hurt.” Lord Clarendon    

Rather a negative thought that one, but easily turned around to put a positive spin on.

A few weeks ago, I was holidaying with my family in the Canadian Rockies, soaking in all the grandeur and beauty of our magnificent surroundings. As holidays go, it was pretty close to perfect, and we were all particularly struck by the friendliness, good organisation and good service wherever we went.

As we drove around, I found myself being particularly grateful for all the nameless people who had made it possible – from the early explorers who had braved the unknown and harsh conditions to find the different passes we climbed, to the people who had built the roads and even the people who cleaned the amenities in our various campsites. Nothing we experienced would have been possible without the contribution of every single one of them!

As I reflected on that, my thought expanded and I realised that no matter how dispensable they were considered, or how small a part they played in the overall scheme of things, every slave that contributed to the building of the pyramids had contributed to a legacy to be proud of. And I realised, that no matter who we are or what we do, we all have an important part to play in something. 

It doesn’t matter what one’s role in life is, how grandiose one’s job-title or how menial the job description, how stimulating the exercise or how tedious the task, everything we do has a consequence and it should therefore have a purpose. How foolish it is then not to make the best we can of it, for our legacy is in the things we do. 

I would therefore restate Lord Clarendon’s remark and say, “No man is so insignificant that he doesn’t leave a legacy of some good!”  That leads to a whole new train of thought – particular if one is a manager or leader.